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What is passive aggression?
Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of negative emotions. Instead of openly broadcasting their feelings, the person resorts to deception. This creates a disconnect between what he says and what he does. For example, he or she may be offended, but at the same time answer that everything is all right.
According to social work specialist Saine Whitson, to prevent the other person from recognizing the anger, the passive aggressor masks his anger. The passive aggressor feels that life might worsen if people around him learn about his negative emotions. Also, sometimes a person may take pleasure in upsetting others.
Where does passive aggression come from?
Marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein identifies three reasons:
- Parenting. Some children are judged or punished when they express negative emotions. Then the child adapts and uses passive aggression to get out their feelings somehow.
If parents are passive-aggressive toward each other or the child, the child learns to communicate the same way and uses the same techniques. Passive aggression then becomes a learned survival skill. It may turn into the only way of self-expression.
- Lack of communication skills. Sometimes people do not know how to express emotions openly or simply do not realize that they resort to passive aggression. Because of this, they use simpler but harsher forms of communication. For example, taking their frustration and irritation out on others instead of trying to control themselves.
- Fear of open conflict. The person may believe that by using passive aggression, he or she avoids arguments or direct conversation. The interlocutor may find it difficult to respond to the jibes and sarcastic remarks, so the passive aggressor will avoid expressive clarification of the relationship.
Also, sometimes people may not respect the interlocutors they are talking to or enjoy manipulating others. They may find this form of communication comfortable and even effective. After all, honest and emotionally open communication is not always easy. It is also not easy to find a decent pair. But you have the opportunity to try. Check it out for yourself
How to understand that you are prone to passive aggression
Psychologists and psychotherapists interviewed by The Washington Post highlight the following signs of passive aggression. Assess whether you’ve noticed this kind of behavior in yourself.
- You are trying to put pressure on the other person and cause him or her to feel guilty. That is, you resort to passive aggression when you want something but aren’t ready to say it directly. For example, your girlfriend is going to a party, and you sigh, “I wish I could go too. You do not declare your desire openly, and the companion feels the tension. Psychotherapist Janet Zinn recommends instead asking honestly and bluntly, “Is there any way I can get to the party?”
Self-deprecation can also be a form of passive aggression. Clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula talks about this. For example, your colleague comes into the office wearing new shoes, and you say, “I’d like to buy those too, but my money is only enough to pay the rent.” Such comments can cause a person to feel guilty, even though he or she has done nothing wrong.
- You give ambiguous compliments. Sometimes passive aggression is caused by the fact that the aggressor feels hurt or jealous. For example, your girlfriend got engaged, and you’ve been waiting a long time to propose. So instead of praising the ring, you call it cute and then add that the diamond could have been bigger.
- You ignore the person you’re talking to. According to psychotherapist Catherine Crowley, if you are sitting on your phone during a face-to-face meeting, you are being passive-aggressive. Another form of passive aggression is if you are harassed and deliberately ignore calls and messages to show how angry you are at the sender. Psychotherapist Jessica Campbell emphasizes that it is as if the person is waiting for the offender to take the hint. This is a kind of punishment for hurt feelings.
Family therapist Andrea Brandt believes that if a person constantly silences problems and does not voice them directly, he suppresses his anger. Instead of openly expressing his emotions, he begins to use sarcasm, lie, or deliberately deny intimacy to show his anger and punish his abuser.
- You procrastinate and delay talking directly about the situation. This is a more active form of ignoring. For example, instead of openly stating discomfort at work, the person takes a sick day right before a deadline. In his personal life, he may refuse to commit at the last minute, make up a reason why he can’t meet, covering up his reluctance. Or he may deny at all that he knew about the meeting.
- You “forget” others or even sabotage others. According to clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, a passive aggressor may deliberately not invite an unpleasant colleague to work meetings or “forget” to tell him important information. If a person is asked what the matter is, he pretends that all this is accidental, pretends to be sympathetic, or even apologizes to get rid of the accusations.
- You seek to settle scores. Feeling frustrated if someone offended you, such as missing a birthday or other important event, is normal. But if instead of an open dialogue, a person begins to deliberately offend the other in response and compete, who will outplay whom, this is passive aggression. For example, you don’t go to your friend’s party if he doesn’t come to yours.
Clinical psychologists and psychotherapists at the University of Saarland, together with the MediClin Bliestal clinics, have created a test that helps you understand how prone you are to passive aggression. The more yes answers you collect, the more likely you are to have passive-aggressive tendencies.
There are 36 statements in the test in total. Here are some of them:
- If someone hurts my feelings, I refuse to support this person in difficult situations.
- If I could help a person I don’t like, I would refuse to do so.
- If I feel down, I don’t allow myself to do things that would be good for me.
- If I want to teach someone a lesson, I do not respond to his or her contact attempts and ignore messages.
- If someone annoys me at work, I reduce my participation in our joint activities.
- If I am dissatisfied with someone’s behavior, I do not address him directly and react coldly or indifferently to his behavior.
- If my partner overlooks my needs, I take revenge on him or her. For example, I cook food or buy something just for myself.
- If I’m upset with someone at work, I don’t praise that person, even if they deserve it.
- If a friend has disappointed me, I wait until he or she makes the first move.
- If I get angry at someone, I ignore that person and their needs.
How to learn to manage your anger
- Learn to recognize negative emotions. According to family therapist Andrea Brandt, this is the first step to learning how to express anger healthily.
Anger can be recognized by physical, emotional, and behavioral signs. You are most likely angry if:
Your body is tense.
You are trembling.
Your face or neck is hot.
You cannot sit still.
You clench your fists.
You raised your voice or changed its tone.
You feel depressed, irritable, or guilty.
You feel anxious.
You want to run away from the situation.
You say sarcastic things or think about it.
You are thinking about revenge.
- Determine what exactly causes anger. Think of a time when you showed signs of anger.
Try to reproduce the memory in detail. How exactly did you know that you were angry? What feelings does this memory evoke? Is your face on fire? Do you feel like running away?
The answers to these questions are your clues. You can write them down, and then remember the situations that caused such emotions.
When you memorize the signs of anger, it will be easier to manage. During the week, take at least a minute to go back to your memories and monitor how you feel. This is how you learn to focus on your emotions.
- Try not to run away from conflict. The next time you are angry, you may notice the signs of anger that you identified earlier. You may want to run away from the conflict, but try to stay in the present. After all, running away from anger or trying to hide it will not make you calmer. Try to live the feeling and directly tell the interlocutor what you feel.
Gradually, you can get used to openly declaring your emotions without hidden reproaches.